Mexican driver Sergio Perez will replace Alexander Albon at Red Bull next season, the F1 team announced on Saturday (AEDT).
Perez, who had no contract with Racing Point, will ride with Max Verstappen for the Milton Keynes-based team in 2021.
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The popular driver sat in the frame to replace the inconsistent Albon in the 190th attempt at Sakhir in Bahrain in the penultimate race of the season that has just ended with a rousing first F1 victory.
“The chance to race for a championship team is something I’ve been hoping for since I came to Formula One and it will be a proud moment to get on the grid alongside Max in Red Bull colors,” said Perez .
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said they had chosen the perfect partner for Verstappen. The boss made Instagram official with a post on his social media account that came after days of rumors that Perez would win the young Dutchman as a partner in 2021.
“After taking the time to evaluate all the relevant data and performance, we have decided that Sergio is the right driver to win Max as a partner for 2021 and we look forward to welcoming him to Red Bull Racing” said Horner.
Albon had its ups and downs in its first full season, but Horner said the London-born Thai would remain a valuable part of the Red Bull setup.
“Alex is a valued member of the team and we have thought long and hard about this decision,” said Horner. “He remains an important part of our team as a test and reserve driver with a focus on development for 2022 and we would like to thank him for his hard work and contribution.”
Verstappen is confident that his new team-mate Red Bull will be able to challenge Mercedes in the constructors’ championship.
“It’s more that we have a second car that is capable of being up there for the whole race and applying a little pressure,” said Verstappen.
“I just hope that Checo is the one who first and foremost brings the whole team forward, but also keeps me on my toes, which is always nice. It’s exciting when a teammate is pushing you.
“Hopefully with a car that is more competitive from the start we can just make it a little more interesting and difficult for them to make decisions.”
Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton believes Red Bull will be a much tougher task next season.
“With all due respect to Alex, I and Valtteri (Bottas) were in the races we had against Max,” said Hamilton.
“Of course I think that makes Red Bull stronger, especially with Sergio’s performance.
“I think it will be an exciting fight to see him against Max. And that will make it a lot more difficult for us as a team.
“So we really have to improve our game because it’s going to be a fight we haven’t seen in a while when it comes to the two drivers fighting us there.”
Hamilton said earlier this year that Red Bull had problems because it hadn’t found the right partner for Verstappen since Daniel Ricciardo joined Renault in late 2018.
Pierre Gasly replaced the Aussie early in 2019 but was cut mid-season and Albon promoted ahead of Daniil Kvyat. Now Albon has been relegated and Perez has come on.
Horner and Co. are hoping for instability as Ricciardo’s exit wears off with Perez’s arrival.
Prior to calling Red Bull, Perez had a season ahead of him after his seat at Racing Point was handed over to Sebastian Vettel, the four-time former world champion whom Ferrari sacked.
He had tearfully said goodbye to Racing Point after retiring from the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix last weekend.
Albon finished fourth in Sunday’s race and won Perez’s new team-mate Verstappen with a win in the leading Red Bull.
Perez said after the race: “Who knows what will happen next? I’m just looking forward to going home again. Whatever comes next, I’ll be ready for it. “
Five days later and with a secure future in 2021, he swore: “You can be sure that I will give my full focus in the next season.
“The team has the same winning mentality as me and I know that I am here to perform and help the team fight for another title.”
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In the week before Yas Marina, the 30-year-old Mexican had moved from last position to a memorable podium after a collision on the first lap, alongside Renault’s Esteban Ocon and his Racing Point team-mate Lance Stroll.
His success made him cry in his cockpit at the end of his penultimate race with Racing Point and at the same time caught the attention of the Red Bull garage.
The statement from his new employer on Saturday said: “Sergio made his Grand Prix debut in 2011 and has since been one of the most consistent performers and tenacious racing drivers in the sport.
“Sergio’s recent run of form and victory at the Sakhir Grand Prix made him the preferred choice for Red Bull Racing, initially on a one-year deal.”
Perez’s welcome job offer comes when Hamilton is ready to put a new contract with Mercedes on paper.
Mercedes almost confirmed that their seven-time world champion would drive for them on Thursday next season.
A post on the team’s official Twitter account contained the hashtag “Announce”, accompanied by the emojis “Coming Soon” and “Pen”, along with a quote from Hamilton expressing his wish to stay with Mercedes.